Terry Dorward, left, smiles as planks are loaded onto Meares Island to help upgrade the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation’s Big Tree Trail. (Photo - Drew Penner)

Terry Dorward, left, smiles as planks are loaded onto Meares Island to help upgrade the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation’s Big Tree Trail. (Photo - Drew Penner)

Big Tree Trail offers moving experiences

“Trail building today is part of an ongoing effort that the First Nations are leading.”

  • Jul. 18, 2017 3:10 p.m.

Drew Penner

Special to the Westerly

Tanya Risk still wore a Wickaninnish Inn rain jacket, as she exited the Big Tree Trail on Meares Island July 9.

The Calgary woman’s hike through the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations-managed route along hearty old growth had clearly moved her.

“It’s neat to be on First Nations land,” she said. “I didn’t realize that it was.”

As she returned to Tofino, a group of about 25 volunteers continued a weekend of work on a walking path developed to prove forests can generate money for First Nations without being cut.

Increased traffic on the trail, known for trees that could be 1,500 years old or more, has sent revenue from visitation fees—$5 per- person—paid to TFN by tourism operators, soaring. It jumped by two-thirds in the past two years, and now generates north of $25,000 a year, according to Tribal Parks Coordinator Terry Dorward. But, Tofino Water Taxi skipper Philippe Jacques said access to the decades-old trail is in need of a boost.

“I have to drop people off on the rocks,” he said, referring to a missing float meant to hold up a crucial part of the dock.

That’s a problem, because the place attracts children and senior citizens, as well as paddlers of all abilities. On Saturday alone 200-300 tourists visited Big Tree and over 20 kayaks covered the beachhead at one point Sunday.

Luckily, TFN is planning to build a modernized $36,000 wharf this fall, which has already received the thumbs up from government regulators.

Volunteers assisted with routine maintenance and cedar plank installation, coming as far away as Chilliwack and Bellingham, Washington. Jeh Custerra, a campaigner for Friends of Clayoquot Sound (FOCS), explained Big Tree Trail emerged out of protests in the 1980s.

“Trail building today is part of an ongoing effort that the First Nations are leading,” he said.

Abbey Piazza, 22, was excited to camp out on the island that benefits from her Victoria fundraising efforts with the Wilderness Committee. Her boss Torrance Coste, 28, a Wilderness Committee campaigner, has been leading trips here for five summers. They’ll come to Big Tree three times this year to help with upkeep.

Both the Wilderness Committee and FOCS have been asked to help improve Ahousaht First Nation’s Wild Side Trail this year, too.

The legacy of logging protests reverberated through the trees of the Tofino-Ucluelet corridor this weekend, from the Irish tourists travelling Big Tree Trail who proudly proclaimed their friend had taken part, to the boy hitchhiking back to Ty-histanis who remembered working on Big Tree Trail with a smile.

But, the impact of conservation economics perhaps found its clearest expression in the cool of the Meares Island forest Sunday, when Dorward took a moment to describe the technique for splitting cedar to his 15-year-old son Cypress Seitch, a brand new intern with FOCS.

“I think it went good,” the youth said, thinking about the lessons shared on Big Tree Trail by his dad. “I’m kinda learning more about him, too.”

Trails